Sunday 16 May 2021
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Presidential intervention sought

Corruption, nepotism, mismanagement has jeopardized millions of taxpayers’ money pumped into SME Bank and threatened jobs, now Zimbabwean expats who worked there have penned a letter to the President playing victim.

Axed Zimbabwean nationals who worked at SME Bank claim they are victims of ‘xenophobia’ and accused the central bank of interfering with their failed applications for work permits saying “it speaks of dishonesty, hypocrisy and unprofessional conduct of the highest order”.

Their attacks come at a time when government is faced with a stiff challenge on whether to close or recapitalize the bank.

Bank of Namibia has exposed endemic corruption, nepotism and mismanagement in the country’s fledgling banking entity that revealed how crooked officials, and international shareholders profited at the expense of Namibia’s people and its economy.

The 21 Zimbabwean expats who worked for the bank before it was placed under curatorship are claiming that they are victims of ‘xenophobia’ after their work permits were not renewed.

The expatriates in a letter written to President Hage Geingob last month, seen by this publication, sought the President’s intervention.

“The xenophobic tendencies that are played if unchecked, pose a very serious threat to Zimbabwean nationals that are living in Namibia for a variety of reasons. The signs are already showing that Zimbabwean nationals in Namibia involved in other sectors of the economy are being targeted for denial of work permits,” reads the letter addressed to Geingob.

The applicants claim that they have made a significant contribution towards the establishment of the Bank and hence contributed to the Namibian nation. “SME Bank which was your initiative Your Excellency, and a very noble and patriotic initiative, has a major role to play in the development of the MSME sector in Namibia and economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged Namibians.” They also claim that they are being treated inhumanely, because: “The intention could probably be to put us in a situation where we are forced to leave the country and abandon our recourse to legal remedies or force us to become refugees in this country and become a laughing stock of the locals.”

The former employees also claim in the letter that they have information that prior to the developments at SME Bank involving BoN, their work permits at SME Bank were approved for a period of 12 months.

They are convinced that acting SME Bank CEO Benestus Herunga and BoN played a role in the rejection of the renewal of their work permits, saying: “SME Bank under control of the board that was disempowered by BoN, supported the renewal of work permits of the Zimbabwean nationals working for the bank. For reasons that have not been explained to us we have learnt that work permits for Zimbabwean nationals working at SME Bank have been rejected en-block.”

“We have some of our fellow nationals who were informed by immigration officers at certain border points that the computer system showed that their permits had been approved. The position regarding the work permits must have changed following BoN’s intervention at SME Bank. The interference by BoN with our applications for work permits speaks of dishonesty, hypocrisy and unprofessional conduct of the highest order,” charged the axed expats.

“We have seen how politicians and individuals got loans despite being well-off at the expense of struggling SMEs. Retail outlets and seasoned business people also had their hands in the SME Bank cookie jar exploiting the bank at the expense of ordinary people and the country’s long-term development,” said an official source privy to the SME Bank looting scandal.


Government at crossroads

Right now, government has to decide whether to recapitalize the bank with the N$400 million requested or to close the bank which will leave over 120 SME Bank employees jobless.

If it were to recapitalize the bank, government could face a backlash from the public for recapitalising a failed entity in which N$470 million of taxpayers money was pumped. Attorney General Sakeus Shanghala said Cabinet will meet in the near future to decide the fate of SME Bank. On Monday, Shanghala, trade minister Immanuel Ngatjizeko met with the technical partners from Zimbabwe to discuss issues related to recovering the missing millions as well as the way forward for the bank. Shanghala confirmed that the meeting took place but would not divulge details thereof.

As the country continues to mend the broken economy, government is caught in a catch-22 situation as afar as SME Bank is concerned.


Parliament rejects SME Bank motion

Yesterday, the National Assembly brushed aside DTA of Namibia McHenry Venaani’s motion to debate the situation at SME Bank.

Speaker Professor Katjavivi said the issue cannot be debated because “it is being adjudicated in court.” “I rule the motion out of order because it is being adjudicated in court,” said Katjavivi.

Venaani responded: “This is a very important issue for the country and it is a matter of national importance.

If our rules say when something is in court we cannot discuss it, it makes this House obsolete. If the President takes this country to war and someone takes him to court for it-meaning we cannot discuss it, that in itself infringes on the rights of the people we represent,” lamented Venaani. Katjavivi explained to Venaani that it was not the first tine parliament gets such a request but there is need to comply with the rules.


Zimbabwean Embassy

The SME Bank saga has seemingly resulted in a diplomatic rebellion after the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Namibia wrote to the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation in March this year appealing for the expatriates to be accorded more time to sort out their things in the country. In a letter dated 30 March 2017, seen by The Patriot, the Embassy appealed “that the expatriates be given more time to wrap up and leave the country. The mission also defended the record of the expatriates saying “they have not willfully disregarded the country’s laws”.

“The Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe presents its compliments to the Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic and has the honor to inform that it has been brought to the attention of the Embassy that there are 24 Zimbabwean SME Bank expatriate employees who were unfortunately only informed in the afternoon of yesterday 29 March 2017, to leave Namibia after the rejection of their application for renewal of work permits that are expiring on 31 March 2017,” reads the letter.

It further reads: “It is against this background that the Embassy is urgently appealing on humanitarian grounds that the expatriates be granted ample time to wrap up and leave the country.”

“Due processes need to be followed in the termination of their contracts and time requested will ensure a smooth transition.

It should be underscored that the Zimbabwean expatriates have not willfully disregarded the country’s laws as they are serving at the SME Bank under the auspices of the Management Agreement,” concluded the letter.

According to the Embassy, due diligence and administrative procedures should be followed to terminate their[expatriates] employment contracts.


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